Thursday, February 28, 2013

Almond Milk Creamed Spinach

I have a case of the winter blues. It's nothing dramatic or of huge concern; I find myself feeling this way most years, in the last weeks of February, before the promise of spring feels within grasp. My mood is sullen and melancholy, mirroring the never-ending grey clouds and fog that seems to be relentlessly enveloping Manhattan. I struggle to remember the last time I felt the sun on my face.

At the same time, my body has been exhausted this week with valiantly defending against nasty cold germs that keep trying to do their worst. I have moments of feeling okay and moments of not being able to put a sentence together, my words getting lost in the fuzziness that is my brain.

Consequently, I have needed a strange, or rather uncommon, combination of foods that are both healthy and nurturing to help defend against this cold as well as homey and comforting to help soothe my soul. Much to my surprise, this dish effortlessly fit that exact description. The spinach added the power of greens to my body, but at the same time, each cheesy, flavorful forkful made me feel as though things would soon be better, the sun would eventually have to peek through the clouds long enough to kiss my cheek.

Serves 6

This is such a homey, comforting dish you might forget you are actually consuming vegetables with each bite. I was able to easily quarter the recipe to make an individual portion in my favorite Lodge cast iron dishes.

Four 5-ounce bags baby spinach
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 inch of water. Add the spinach by the handful; allow each handful to wilt before adding more. When the spinach is wilted, drain it, pressing out as much water as possible. Wipe out the pot.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pot. Add the shallots; cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the almond milk and simmer until very thick, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese and spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into a baking dish.

In a small bowl, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the panko and almonds and sprinkle over the creamed spinach. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Serve.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Breakfast Pizza

Growing up, I loved enjoying a sweet breakfast - pancakes or waffles with syrup, chocolate chip pancakes or muffins, cinnamon buns - dishes only made better by salty bacon on the side. But as I have grown up, my tastes have evolved and I crave a certain combination of savory items for my weekend breakfast.

This pizza has all of those flavors, which is why I consider it to be the most perfect breakfast food. Eggs, salty bacon, melty cheese, shallots, chives, scallions - all on top of a deliciously flavored, crispy thin pizza crust. Good salt and pepper brighten the whole dish and make the flavors jump in your mouth. And I'm not the only one who finds this flavor combination is divine - Mike could hardly wait for me finish photographing the pizza this weekend so we could dive right in.

Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook
Makes 2 pizzas, serves 4 to 6 people

This pizza contains all of my favorite flavors of breakfast. Be sure to allow the pizza dough to rise in the refrigerator for two nights, the resulting flavor is incredible and worth the wait. If you have a pizza stone, be sure to use it as it will create a very crisp crust. But not to worry if you don't have a pizza stone; my oven is too small to hold one and the crust still crisps up very nicely.

Pizza Dough
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Breakfast Pizza
Cornmeal, for dusting
Bread flour, for dusting
6 bacon strips
Pizza dough (recipe above)
Olive oil, for drizzling
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
Fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
6 large eggs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Chives, minced
Scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

Make the pizza dough: Place 3/4 cup lukewarm water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Rain in the yeast, stir, and set it aside to activate for 5 minutes.

Add the flour to the beast mixture and sprinkle the salt on top. Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment, and combine on slow speed for 1 minute, until all the ingredients start to come together. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Then increase the speed to high and mix for 2 more minutes.

Immediately turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Roll each half into a tight round. Place the balls on a floured baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in a large plastic bag and tie the bag loosely. Refrigerate overnight or up to 2 nights.

Make the pizza: The next day, about 1 hour before baking the pizzas, pull the baking sheet out of the refrigerator and leave it in a warm area until you are ready to use the dough. You do not want the dough to become too warm, as it will be difficult to shape.

Meanwhile, if you have a pizza stone, place it on the oven rack to warm. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously dust the surface of a pizza peel (or baking sheet if you do not have one) with cornmeal.

Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, add the bacon strips, and pan-fry until crisp. Put the bacon on a plate lined with paper towels, let it cool, and then crumble into bite-size pieces.

Lightly dust a work surface with bread flour. Working with one ball of pizza dough, dip your hands and your dough in the bread flour to make them less sticky, and pat the dough down into a disk shape with your fingers. Once the disk is large enough, drape the dough over your fists and carefully start stretching and expanding the dough from underneath to form a round that is 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

Place the dough on the prepared peel or baking tray. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the dough and, using your fingers, brush the dough evenly with the oil. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan over the dough, followed by a few slices of mozzarella. Crack 3 eggs over the top and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake the pizza for 10 to 16 minutes, checking on it after 5 minutes and rotating it if necessary to ensure that it is baking evenly. When the crust is golden, the cheese is melted, and the egg yolks are cooked to medium. Carefully transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Let it cool for 2 minutes and sprinkle with half of the shallot and chives and scallions. Slice and serve immediately. Prepare your second pizza the same way.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chicken Pozole

I realize that today is Valentine's Day and soup might not exactly rank very highly on the list of most romantic foods in the world.  But the rough winter months of New York have taught me that sometimes even the most ordinary of dishes can be romantic, just as long as those dishes are hearty and filling enough to melt away cold cheeks and fingers and noses from the commute home.

And this soup is anything but boring!  It's spicy and warm and, with the addition of a little fresh lime juice, is bright with the flavors of a warmer climate.  Crushed tortilla chips add an unexpected crunch and extra bit of saltiness.  Mix up a batch of margaritas, play a little footsy under the table with your slipper-clad sweetheart, and you have the makings of a delicious, romantic evening!


Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 8 servings

This is one of our favorite soups to make in the winter months, as it is hearty and filling without requiring a lot of work to create.  We love adding diced avocado, some freshly squeezed lime juice, and some crushed tortillas just before we sink our spoons into the bowl.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cans (14.5 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 cans (15 ounces each) white hominy, drained
6 3/4 cups shredded cooked chicken (2 pounds)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Assorted garnishes, such as diced avocado, thinly sliced radishes, and crumbled tortilla chips, for serving

Heat oil in a 5-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until evenly distributed. Add 4 cups water, broth, and hominy. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until fragrant, about 30 minutes.

Stir in chicken; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until heated through. To serve, divide among bowls, and garnish as desired.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Roasted Beets with Yogurt, Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

To celebrate seven years together, a few weekends ago Mike and I had an anniversary lunch at ABC Kitchen.  We went armed with a gift card, a thoughtful engagement gift from my boss, meaning we were at liberty to order dishes and drinks that we might otherwise skimmed over in the name of keeping the bill reasonably priced for a mid-day meal.  One of the dishes we ordered was the Roasted Beets with Organic Yogurt.  Mike, not being a lover of yogurt, was a bit skeptical, but figured he could just enjoy the beets.

When the dish arrived, the beautiful colors of the roasted beets just begged for us to try that dish first, before any of the others on the table.  It was so unbelievably delicious!  Mike even enjoyed the yogurt, with the juices from the beets, the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and crunch of sea salt combining to make a bright, irresistible mixture.

What I love so much about Dan Kluger's menu is that the basic concept of so many of his dishes is usually quite simple - a few ingredients, fresh from the farmer's market, combined in a unique way.  I knew I could attempt to replicate the dish at home and achieve something quite similar, without needing to spend a fortune on ingredients I didn't already have.

So last Sunday morning I roasted lots of beets, then Mike and I worked to rub all of the skins off so we could make it to the gym on time.  The beets cooled and then for lunch, I quickly assembled the dish for a healthy, scrumptious lunch. 

Roasted Beets with Yogurt, Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar
Inspired by Dan Kluger

You can use whatever combination of beets you like for this dish, just be sure to roast each variety separately, as their cooking times may vary.  For the purposes of the photos, in order to really bring out the beautiful colors of the beets, I only plated a few beets, but be sure to really pile on the beets when you sit down to enjoy your dish!

For the Beets
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pound beets (I used a mix of baby red, white, and chioggia beets) – washed, scrubbed and separated by color

For the Plated Dish
2 cups Greek yogurt
Roasted beets, cooled, trimmed, and cut into quarters
1/4 cups balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Tarragon, coarsely minced
Maine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the beets: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, and salt.  Toss each beet type with in the mixture and wrap in a tight foil pouch (Note: each type of beet should be cooked separately). Place foil pouches on a baking tray and roast for about 1 hour (Note: if you are using larger beets, increase cooking time to about 1 1/2 hours).  Check the beets using a small paring knife to see if they are tender. Once done, rub off skins with a clean towel.

Assemble the Dish: In two bowls, spoon yogurt to cover bottom. Place beets in an even layer on top. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil. Garnish with tarragon and sprinkle with salt and pepper to finish. Serve immediately.

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